One by one, Obama's warnings to Russia brushed aside by Putin
WASHINGTON (AP) — One by one, President Barack Obama's warnings to Russia are being brushed aside by President Vladimir Putin, who appears to only be speeding up efforts to formally stake his claim to Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
In the week since Obama first declared there would be "costs" if Putin pressed into Crimea, Russian forces have taken control of the region and a referendum has been scheduled to decide its future. Obama declared the March 16 vote a violation of international law, but in a region where ethnic Russians are the majority, the referendum seems likely to become another barrier to White House efforts to compel Putin to pull his forces from Crimea.
"The referendum vote is going to serve for Putin, in his mind, as the credibility and legitimacy of Russia's presence there," said Andrew Kuchins, the director of the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
If Crimea votes to join Russia, the referendum could also put Obama in the awkward position of opposing the outcome of a popular vote.
The White House has tried to match Russia's assertive posture by moving quickly to impose financial sanctions and travel bans on Russians and other opponents of Ukraine's new central government. U.S. officials have also urgently tried to rally the international community around the notion that Russia's military maneuvers in Crimea are illegal, even seeking support from China, Moscow's frequent ally against the West.
Heavier sanctions on Russia over Ukraine could backfire on US, Europe
WASHINGTON (AP) — Underlying talk about taking harsh punitive measures against Russia for its military incursion into Ukraine are economic complications and worries that sanctions levied against Moscow could backfire on the U.S. and Europe.
Heavier U.S. and European Union sanctions could sting Russia's already slow-growing economy and hurt its financial sector. But Moscow could retaliate and seize American and other foreign assets or cut exports of natural gas to Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russia for energy.
Declaring his determination not to let the Kremlin carve up Ukraine, President Barack Obama on Thursday slapped new visa restrictions on Russian and other opponents of Ukraine's government in Kiev and authorized wider financial penalties against those involved in the military intervention or in stealing state assets. Obama emphasized his resolve in an hourlong telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, affirming his contention that Russia's actions violate Ukraine's sovereignty.
On Capitol Hill, both chambers of Congress looked to advance legislation imposing hard-hitting sanctions on Russia.
Obama hailed U.S. cooperation with the European Union, which on Thursday suspended talks with Putin's government on a wide-ranging economic agreement and on granting Russian citizens visa-free travel within the 28-nation bloc. But Europe's presidents and prime ministers remain divided on taking more drastic steps such as freezing assets and issuing travel bans on Russian officials.
AP Exclusive: Man named by Newsweek as bitcoin's creator strongly denies it
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto said Thursday that he is not the creator of bitcoin, adding further mystery to the story of how the world's most popular digital currency came to be.
The denial came after Newsweek published a 4,500-word cover story claiming Nakamoto is the person who wrote the computer code underpinnings of bitcoin.
In an exclusive two-hour interview with The Associated Press, Nakamoto, 64, denied he had anything to do with it and said he had never heard of bitcoin until his son told him he had been contacted by a Newsweek reporter three weeks ago.
Nakamoto acknowledged that many of the details in Newsweek's report are correct, including that he once worked for a defense contractor, and that his given name at birth was Satoshi. But he strongly disputed the magazine's assertion that he is "the face behind bitcoin."
"I got nothing to do with it," he said, repeatedly.
Oscar Pistorius trial: former girlfriend says he cheated on her with woman he killed
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — A former girlfriend of Oscar Pistorius testified Friday at the double-amputee runner's murder trial that he always carried a firearm and that their relationship ended when he cheated on her with Reeva Steenkamp, the woman he fatally shot last year.
Samantha Taylor also said Pistorius carried a gun with him "all the time" when they were dating, and on one occasion he fired it out of a car's sunroof soon after a policeman stopped the car they were in for speeding.
Taylor, who started dating Pistorius in 2011 after meeting him the previous year, described another incident in which she and Pistorius were followed by an unidentified car as he drove home.
"When we arrived at his estate, he jumped out of the car with his gun and held it to someone's window and then they drove away," Taylor said.
The court adjourned briefly after Taylor broke down in tears while describing how Pistorius cheated on her with another woman, before he began his relationship with Steenkamp. It adjourned again when she wept while describing problems in her relationship with Pistorius, the first amputee to run in the Olympics.
With winners already decided, NKorea uses elections to keep tabs on citizens
TOKYO (AP) — North Korean voters will make a choice Sunday when they elect a new national legislature, but not for a candidate. The ruling elite have already done that for them, and there's only one per district.
They get to vote "yes" or "no." Virtually all pick "yes."
One thing they don't get to decide is whether to bother voting. Going to the polls is expected of all eligible voters, which effectively makes North Korean elections a powerful tool for checking up on the people.
For outsiders trying to figure out what's going on in North Korean politics, Sunday's elections for the Supreme People's Assembly may shed some light on what personalities are currently in favor and likely to dominate in the years ahead. For North Korean authorities, the elections provide both a veneer of democracy and a means of monitoring the whereabouts and loyalties of average citizens.
Colorful posters urging citizens to go to the polls line the streets in Pyongyang and other cities. Along with nearly 700 other 'deputies" expected to be seated in the new assembly, supreme leader Kim Jong Un himself has announced his candidacy — in District 111 on sacred Mount Paekdu.
International Criminal Court convicts Congo rebel leader of involvement in 2003 village attack
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court on Friday convicted a rebel leader of charges including murder and pillage over a deadly attack on a village in eastern Congo, but acquitted him of rape, sexual slavery and using child soldiers.
Germain Katanga showed no emotion as judges convicted him as an accessory in the attack on the strategic village of Bogoro on Feb. 24, 2003, in which some 200 civilians were hacked or shot to death and many women were raped and turned into sex slaves.
Katanga, nicknamed Simba, is only the second person convicted since the court was established in 2002. Another alleged rebel leader originally charged with him, Mathieu Ngudjolo, was acquitted of all charges in December 2012.
In a 2-1 majority verdict, the court said Katanga played an important role in the attack on Bogoro by arming rebel fighters, "reinforcing the strike capability of the militia," Presiding Judge Bruno Cotte said.
One of the three judges slammed the verdict, however, saying that the court changed the nature of the charges against Katanga, depriving him of the ability to defend himself.
Opening statements to begin in trial of Army general facing sexual assault charges
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — Opening statements were set to begin Friday in the court-martial of an Army general accused of sexually assaulting a captain under his command with whom he had a three-year affair.
Prosecutors were expected to begin making their case against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair. His defense lawyers portray him as the victim of an overzealous military under intense political pressure to make an example of him.
Sinclair, 51, stood ramrod straight before a judge Thursday and pleaded guilty to three charges that could send him to prison for up to 15 years. It was a remarkable admission sure to end the military career of a man once regarded as a rising star among the Army's small cadre of trusted battle commanders.
Sinclair still faces five other charges stemming from the claims of a female captain nearly 20 years his junior who says the general twice forced her to perform oral sex. But by pleading guilty to the lesser charges, Sinclair's lawyers believe they will strengthen his case at trial by potentially limiting some of the salacious evidence prosecutors can present.
The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the sexual assaults.
Survey: Half of America's young people say they're Democrats or lean Democratic
WASHINGTON (AP) — Young adults like to think of themselves as independent, but when it comes to politics, they're more likely than not to lean to the left.
Half of American adults ages 18 to 33 are self-described political independents, according to a survey out Friday, but at the same time half of these so-called millennials are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, the highest share for any age group over the last decade.
In addition, young adults tend to be single and churchless — turning away from their predecessors' proclivity for religion and marriage, according the Pew Research Center survey. Almost two-thirds don't classify themselves as "a religious person." And when it comes to tying the knot: Only about 1 in 4 millennials is married. Almost half of baby boomers were married at that age.
The new survey shows how the millennial adults are "forging a distinctive path into adulthood," said Paul Taylor, Pew's executive vice president and co-author of the report.
This can especially be seen when it comes to politics. Fifty percent of the millennials identify themselves as political independents, while only 27 percent said Democrat and 17 percent said Republican. The independent identification for millenials is an increase from 38 percent back in 2004.
AP PHOTOS: Thousands of women make bricks in Pakistan to pay off inherited debt
MANDRA, Pakistan (AP) — Amna Bhatti has spent half a century shaping mud into bricks in a huge kiln south of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. She started by paying off her parents' debt and now she's on to her late husband's. She'll probably spend the rest of her life here.
Bhatti was 10 when she started working at the kiln to pay off her parents' debt. Now, at 60, she is paying off the 250,000 rupees (approximately $2,500) in debt her husband left behind when he died 12 years ago.
She has managed to cut 1,000 dollars off that original loan, but has taken more loans from her employer — so it is doubtful she will ever emerge from debt in her lifetime.
"We are poor, and we will always stay poor. When you enter this road the only way out of it is death," Bhatti said, speaking next to the clay she was shaping into bricks.
Tens of thousands of other poor Pakistanis work hard in brick kilns, agriculture fields and other hard labor across Pakistan in what is called "bonded labor" to pay off family loans often passed down through generations. They often have no proper living facilities or basic amenities like running water or bathrooms. They generally make about 350 rupees a day (approximately $3.50) for their hard work.
Ex-NFL player Darren Sharper returns to LA court seeking release on bail
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Darren Sharper will return to court on Friday where his attorneys will argue that the former NFL All-Pro safety should be released from a Los Angeles jail.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Sharper's attorneys filed a motion Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court arguing that since Sharper has not been formally charged in Louisiana, he should be released on the terms of $1 million bail he has already posted.
The former player and football analyst had pleaded not guilty to charges he drugged and raped two women in Los Angeles County and turned himself in last week when New Orleans police issued an arrest warrant on the similar charges.
The athlete's attorneys contend that Los Angeles prosecutors are using the Louisiana case to improperly keep Sharper behind bars until his Los Angeles case is resolved.